Leonora Speyer

Thirteen Poems by Leonora Speyer

Spring Cowardice

I am afraid to go into the woods,
I fear the trees and their mad, green moods.

I fear the breezes that pull at my sleeves,
The creeping arbutus beneath the leaves,

And the brook that mocks me with wild, wet words:
I stumble and fall at the voice of birds.

Think of the terror of those swift showers,
Think of the meadows of fierce-eyed flowers:

And the little things with sudden wings
That buzz about me and dash and dart,
And the lilac waiting to break my heart!

Winter, hide me in your kind snow,
I am a coward, a coward, I know!


Crickets at Dawn

All night the crickets chirp,
Like little stars of twinkling sound
In the dark silence.
They sparkle through the summer stillness
With a crisp rhythm:
They lift the shadows on their tiny voices.
But at the shining note of birds that wake,
Flashing from tree to tree till all the wood is lit —
O golden coloratura of dawn!—
The cricket-stars fade slowly,
One by one.



Suddenly flickered a flame,
Suddenly fluttered a wing:
What, can a dead bird sing?
Somebody spoke your name.

Suddenly fluttered a wing,
Sounded a voice, the same,
Somebody spoke your name:
Oh, the remembering!

Sounded a voice, the same,
Song of the heart’s green spring,
Oh, the remembering:
Which of us was to blame?

Song of the heart’s green spring,
Wings that still flutter, lame,
Which of us was to blame? —
God, the slow withering!


The Confident

The wood is talking in its sleep. —
Have a care, trees!
You are heard by the brook and the breeze
And the listening lake;
And some of the birds are awake,
I know —
Green, garrulous wood; I trusted you so!


Night of Stars

They crowded round me more and more;
I had to shove to shut the door.



Mountains take too much time.
Start at the top and climb.


Garden Under Lightning


Out of the storm that muffles shining night
Flash roses ghastly-sweet,
And lilies far too pale.
There is a pang of livid light,
A terror of familiarity,
I see a dripping swirl of leaves and petals
That I once tended happily,
Borders of flattened, frightened little things,
And writing paths I surely walked in that other life—

My specter-garden beckons to me,
Gibbers horribly—
And vanishes!


April on the Battlefields

April now walks the fields again,
Trailing her tearful leaves
And holding all her frightened buds against her heart:
Wrapt in her clouds and mists,
She walks,
Groping her way among the graves of men.

The green of earth is differently green,
A dreadful knowledge trembles in the grass,
And little wide-eyed flowers die too soon:
There is a stillness here—
After a terror of all raving sounds—
And birds sit close for comfort upon the boughs
Of broken trees.

April, thou grief!
What of thy sun and glad, high wind,
Thy valiant hills and woods and eager brooks,
Thy thousand-petalled hopes?
The sky forbids thee sorrow, April!
And yet—
I see thee walking listlessly
Across those scars that once were joyous sod,
Those graves,
Those stepping-stones from life to life.

Death is an interruption between two heart-beats,
That I know—
Yet know not how I know—
But April mourns,
Trailing her tender green,
The passion of her green,
Across the passion of those fearful fields.

Yes, all the fields!
No barrier here,
No challenge in the night,
No stranger-land;
She passes with her perfect countersign,
Her green;
She wanders in her mournful garden,
Dropping her buds like tears,
Spreading her lovely grief upon the graves of man.


The Ladder

I had a sudden vision in the night—
I did not sleep, I dare not say I dreamed—
Beside my bed a pallid ladder gleamed
And lifted upward to the sky’s dim height:
And every rung shone strangely in that light,
And every rung a woman’s body seemed,
Outstretched, and down the sides her long hair streamed,
And you—you climbed that ladder of delight!

You climbed, sure-footed, naked rung by rung,
Clasped them and trod them, called them by their name,
And my name too I heard you speak at last;
You stood upon my breast the while and flung
A hand up to the next! And then—oh shame—
I kissed the foot that bruised me as it passed.


The Saint-Gaudens Statue in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington

Are there no tears for other hearts to shed?
Those heavy eyes have drained the world of grief,
And yet no solace found, no drear relief,
Such as my heart would seek, and find, I know,
Had I been given the weight of that vast woe,
And wept through pain to peace! But you, instead,
Have drowned all healing in a shoreless sea
Of unforgiven wrong, whose every breath
Lifts windy clamor through the soul’s hushed space,
Fanning to greater grief, to swifter glow,
The flame that smolders still in that bronze face,
Sadder than life, and sadder far than death,
Because of love renounced and joy to be,
And faith and hope and immortality.


The Squall

It swoops gray-winged across the obliterated hills,
And the startled lake seems to run before it:
From the wood comes a clamor of leaves,
Tugging at the twigs,
Pouring from the branches,
And suddenly the birds are silent.

Thunder crumples the sky,
Lightning tears at it.
And now the rain—
The rain, thudding, implacable;
The wind, reveling in the confusion of great pines!

And a silver shifting of light,
A coolness:
A sense of summer anger passing,
Of summer gentleness creeping nearer—
Penitent, tearful,


The Locust

Your hot voice sizzles from some cool tree near-by:
You seem to burn your way through the air
Like a small, pointed flame of sound,
Sharpened on the ecstatic edge of sun-beams!


Measure Me, Sky

Measure me, sky!
Tell me I reach by a song.
Nearer the stars;
I have been little so long.

Weigh me, high wind!
What will your wild scales record?
Profit of pain,
Joy by the weight of a word.

Horizon, reach out,
Catch at my hands, stretch me taut.
Rim of the world,
Widen my eyes by a thought.

Sky, be my depth,
Wind be my width and my height,
World, my heart’s span;
Loveliness, wings for flight.


Leonora Speyer (November 7, 1872 – February 10, 1956) was born in DC, and educated in the DC public schools and the Brussels Conservatory of Music. Speyer began her career as a concert violinist, performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, as well as orchestras in France, England and Germany. After living abroad for most of her adult life, she returned to the US with her second husband at the start of WWI. Speyer won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her second book, Fiddler’s Farewell (1926). Her other books are Slow Wall (1939), Naked Heel (1931), and A Canopic Jar (1921). Speyer also translated poetry and libretti from German and French, and several of her poems were set to music.